Participatory Fact-Finding: Developing New Directions for Human Rights Investigations Through New Technologies
in THE FUTURE OF HUMAN RIGHTS FACT-FINDING (Philip Alston & Sarah Knuckey eds., Oxford University Press, 2015, Forthcoming).
25 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2015
Date Written: February 2, 2015
This chapter considers the way in which broader participation in human rights fact-finding, enabled by the introduction of new technologies, will change the nature of fact-finding itself. Using the example of a participatory mapping project called Map Kibera, the chapter argues that new technologies will change human rights fact-finding by providing opportunities for ordinary individuals to investigate the human rights issues that affect them. Those who were formerly the ‘subjects’ of human rights investigations now have the potential to be agents in their own right. This ‘participatory fact-finding’ may not be as effective in ‘naming and shaming’ states and companies that violate human rights because the absence of the imprimatur of an established organization may render the information collected vulnerable to critique. At the same time, new and more participatory techniques of investigation will be better suited to other forms of accountability. Participatory fact-finding has the potential to be fact-finding as empowerment — the collection of information and documentation of facts as means for empowering those affected by abuses to advocate for their change. Participatory fact-finding will also be more effective in documenting violations of the positive obligation to fulfill rights than traditional fact-finding methods because they offer opportunities for gathering more data than is possible through victim and witness interviewing.
By supporting local participation, new technologies provide an opportunity to bring the practice of human rights fact-finding into greater alignment with human rights principles. Utilizing new technologies to achieve greater participation in human rights fact-finding will allow human rights organizations to ‘practice what they preach’ — to integrate the principle of participation into their own work in addition to recommending it to states and other duty-bearers. There is and will continue to be a significant need for the kind of fact-finding done by large and established international human rights organizations. Yet documentation projects involving citizens have the potential to be a new kind of fact-finding — to look and function differently than fact-finding as generally practiced by the major international non-governmental organizations and the United Nations. By opening up who can participate in investigation, new technologies will not replace established methodologies, but will instead broaden our understanding of what counts as human rights documentation and the purposes such investigations serve.
Keywords: human rights, social media, technology, fact-finding, documentation, mobilization, ESCR, economic rights
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